The Renaissance Cheapness of Life Like Today?

Print More

During this summer, I have had some time to catch up on some pleasurable reading and, I must admit, binge watching of three TV series.

Credit: Creative Commons


“The Borgias,” an Italian Renaissance-era Showtime series, in which the Spanish-born Cardinal Rodrigo Lanzol y de Borja (Italianized “Borgia”), through ruthless ambition, deceit, and criminal activity, rises to the Papacy as Alexander VI on August 11, 1492 until his death on August 18, 1503. At the time of his ascension, he was married with a number of children. After becoming Pope, he continued having sexual relations with his collection of mistresses, and he eventually elevated his offspring to high posts.
The HBO series “Game of Thrones,” located within what could be considered as a Renaissance timeframe in terms of technological development, weaponry, and garment styles in the backdrop of the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos toward the conclusion of a decade-long summer, meshes a number of plot lines, most notably ones in which members of numerous noble houses engage in civil war for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. The series investigates issues of power, social hierarchy, religion and spirituality, loyalty and betrayal, virtue and corruption, war and rebellion, crime, murder, and punishment.
“Elizabeth I,” a two-part TV miniseries appearing originally on British Channel 4, staring Helen Mirren, covers the final 24 years of Queen Elizabeth I in her nearly 45-year reign as Queer regent of England and Ireland (November 17, 1558 – March 24, 1603). Elizabeth’s time on the throne covered a period of enormous tensions and transitions as governments consolidated power through plots and conspiracies, alliances, war, and confiscation of territories. It was also a period of great religious upheavals.
What I found so unsettling and utterly disturbing connecting these series was the absolute lack of value placed on human life. People killed each other with as much deliberation as they would in squashing a fly on their bedroom wall.
The viewer witnesses in each of these series competing rulers claiming the same expanses of land, while confidently declaring these had been ordained to them by (the) god(s). Very often we are spectators to kidnappings, torture, and slaughter of youth, of genocide, fratricide, and infanticide. We see war, looting, the showing of no mercy, bodily mutilation, claims to the spoils, appropriation of territories, attacks on civilian transports, use of citizens as shields and as fodder for weapons arsenals resulting in massive civilian casualties.
In one series, “The Borgias,” the Pope’s army led by his son, Juan, destroyed underground tunnels to penetrate the enclave of its enemy, Caterina Sforza.
Throughout all the series, we see the training of troops for eventual battle with rebels or separatists waging civil war, countries or kingdoms fighting wars of colonization, or nations waging clandestine proxy wars by equipping separatists in nations they intend to dominate. Usually, other nations stand back looking on without intervening to stop the carnage.
While the notion of forming treaties or alliances surfaces on occasion, rarely do we witness peace negotiations, and when we do, key players break agreements at will.
While during the Renaissance, art and technologies advanced, rulers and others still considered human life as cheap, where competing religious views laid claim to The truth. I’m relieved, though, to know that we now live in times of civility, where we value human life and others’ beliefs so much more. The scenes depicted in these series could never occur today in real life, could they?